Laura Engelhardt forgave her killer before she died, her sister, Amanda, testified Wednesday during the first day of trial for the man accused in the Hoffman Estates triple murder.
The testimony brought many of Laura's friends to tears, sending a few out of the courtroom because they were so emotional. Roughly a dozen of Laura's school and church friends are attending the trial, along with other supporters of the Engelhardt family.
"(Laura) was just the best person I know. Still is," said one friend, wearing a purple shirt and ribbon, the color representing domestic violence, with the names "Marlene, Laura and Al" written on it.
Despite the emotional drain, the close-knit group of friends plans to attend as many days of the trial as possible at the Rolling Meadows courthouse.
"It's been emotional. We expected it to be emotional. That's why we came as a group," said Kourtney Dillavou, 23, of Schaumburg.
Laura Engelhardt was 18 years old and weeks away from graduating from Conant High School when she was fatally stabbed in 2009, along with her father, Al, 57, and her grandmother, Marlene Gacek, 73.
Amanda's ex-fiance, D'Andre "Dre" Howard, is charged with the killings.
Laura's friends said they've kept her memory alive as they've gone through high school and college graduations and gotten their first jobs.
"This (trial) is our closure," said friend Stephanie Gray, 23, of Elk Grove Village.
On the stand Wednesday, Amanda Engelhardt said Howard came over to the Engelhardt family's house in the middle of the night, angry over an earlier fight they'd had, and woke people up by putting knives to their throats and tying them up.
At one point, he agreed to untie Laura, and she grabbed the knife and stabbed Howard in the arm, Amanda Engelhardt testified.
That triggered him to grab the knife and stab four members of the family, prosecutors said. Shelly Engelhardt, Laura's and Amanda's mother, was critically injured but survived.
After the stabbings stopped, Amanda said Howard realized what he had done and started crying, apologizing, and asking everyone to forgive him, including Laura. While she lay bleeding from stab wounds to the chest, Laura told Howard she forgave him, Amanda testified. Laura died later that morning.
In a 2011 essay he wrote for the Daily Herald, Jeff Engelhardt, Laura's and Amanda's brother, who was away at college when the murders occurred, said he is working toward forgiving Howard.